19 May 2019

The Manor of Portslade

Judy Middleton - First published in 2003 (updated May 2021) 

copyright © D. Sharp
Portslade's Norman Manor House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument & Grade II* Listed Building
and the oldest secular building in the City of Brighton & Hove


Portslade’s Norman Manor House was built extraordinarily close to St Nicolas Church. Of course when the manor was built, the church was smaller than it is today – there being no chancel or north aisle. Even so the buildings were practically cheek by jowl. In fact the Lord of the Manor might have envisaged the church as fulfilling the role of his personal chapel.

copyright © D. Sharp
The Lords of the Manor private doorway from the
 'new' 1807 Manor House to St Nicolas Church
 via the churchyard
Indeed legend has it that he had his own private doorway leading straight into the church via a passage from the manor. Evidence for this theory was backed up by the writer Hussey who stated ‘below the surface still exist foundations of two walls running from the old mansion to the north-west and south-east angles of the church.’

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a fact that later Lords of the Manor had their own quick access to the church from their new manor house by a doorway into the churchyard, which can still be seen today next to the Borrer grave.

In architectural terms, there were links between Portslade Manor and St Nicolas Church. For example, in the north-west angle of the manor were stone quoins, closely resembling the quoins at St Nicolas, and dating from the 13th century. Then there is a piece of chevron moulding placed at random on the underside of a large doorway in the manor, which is similar to a chevron moulding in St Nicolas above the pulpit, that was only re-discovered in recent times.

The closeness of manor house and church has other local examples – perhaps the best known one being St Peter’s Church and Preston Manor. Then there is St Helen’s Church, Hangleton, which was once close to the precursor of Hangleton Manor, until the owner decided to build a new house in the valley.

The closeness of Portslade Manor and St Nicolas seems to have been a definite advantage to the church because it never fell into ruins as happened with St Helen’s Hangleton, St Peter’s, West Blatchington, St Leonard’s, Aldrington, and St Andrew’s, Hove. Indeed St Nicolas is the only church of the five to have been in continual use since its foundation in around 1150.

copyright © D. Sharp
A view looking towards Shoreham Harbour, it is still possible to see the tower of St Nicolas (Patron Saint of Sailors) from Shoreham Beach's Victorian Fort today, the Norman Manor House with its original high appex roof would also have been easily seen from the harbour in medieval times.

The Manor House

In the Domesday Book there are two references to Portslade:
"Oswald holds half a hide in Portslade he held it before 1066. It did not pay tax, he could go where he would with the land, One villager, value 6s".
"Albert held half a hide in Portslade. It did not pay tax. One villager with half plough. The value is and was 6s." 
The earliest part of the Manor House was built between 1140 and 1150 of flint rubble and knapped flints; the stone dressings were partly Caen stone and partly Quarr Abbey stone from Binstead in the Isle of Wight.

Like many other old houses, there were alterations and extensions over the years. Probably the most important of these was the western part added in the 17th century. It is possible to know the exact date because the owner proudly included ‘1611’ in the ornamental plaster frieze in the large ground-floor room. 

copyright © Hove Borough Council (now Brighton & Hove City Council)
The 1611 ornamental plaster frieze that once decorated the large ground-floor room of the original Portslade Manor House. 

The rest of the frieze has a repeating pattern of honeysuckle, together with twirls and tendrils, and palmette – the latter being a motif shaped like a palm leaf. Although only a fraction of this decoration has survived, it is enough to be able to envisage how the room looked in its heyday.

copyright © D. Sharp
The east entry doorway to the basement of Portslade Manor, the floor was made of rammed chalk. The Norman basement would have been used as a store with living areas on the first floor.

The original Portslade Manor consisted of a basement with two storeys above. Along the south wall there were two windows that once lighted the basement. But the finest window is the two-light divided by a mullion that was created in the 13th century. It is evident that this window once had shutters fixed to the outside wall.

The old manor continued to be lived in until around 1807 when the owner built a brand-new manor house not that far away from the venerable manor.

Portslade Manor as Almshouse

It seems that the old manor was not immediately redundant, and became an almshouse for the old and destitute inhabitants of Portslade because there was nowhere else for them to go. However, all this changed in the 1830s when the Steyning Union Workhouse was established at Shoreham.

Previously, through the centuries in fact, the welfare of poor and destitute people in Portslade was the responsibility of the inhabitants, and in the 18th century the Poor Book was administered by clergy at St Nicolas, the money being raised locally. This meant, for instance, that poor widows might be given money for sitting with the dying, laying out the dead, taking in laundry, or looking after an orphan, while there was plenty of work for men to do, especially picking up the ever-present flints from the fields.

copyright © D. Sharp
The folly was built from masonry taken from the 
partially destroyed Norman Manor House
 (an act of Victorian vandalism)
In times of ruined harvests, or unemployment, finding the money to support the poor became a huge burden on everyone else. Thus the union of several parishes became the preferred option because it helped to spread the cost.

Portslade was part of the Steyning Union, and so the people who had fallen on hard times were sent to the Workhouse at Shoreham.

Old habits die hard, and it seems likely local people would far rather stay close to family and friends than being despatched to Shoreham. Perhaps some of them tried to cling on to their almshouse. Is that the reason why the owner of Portslade Manor decided to demolish the old manor?

It was certainly demolished before 1840, and the owner was determined to do it properly. The structure was overthrown with some force, using lighted timbers in the time-honoured fashion.

Then came the extraordinary decision to build a folly out of some of the dressed stones and flints thrown violently to the ground. The folly can still be seen today.

Into Recent Times

copyright © D. Sharp
An aerial view of the ruined Portslade Manor House in 2018, the photograph was taken from the tower of St Nicolas Church.

After the demolition, the ruins of Portslade Manor were left alone, to be covered with a mantle of ivy plus sycamore trees tall enough to shed their copious leaves over the twitten wall and onto the path leading to the vestry, to the great annoyance of the vicar.

After the Second World War there grew a gradual realisation about what a valuable historical building was being neglected in our midst. After all, Norman manor houses in England are very rare. On 19 July 1950 Portslade Manor was designated a Grade II* listed building.

copyright © D. Sharp
The 12 th century window in the south wall of the first floor hall of the Manor overlooks St Nicolas Church.

Unfortunately, the manor also became a target for vandals, and the authorities were so worried about what might become of the precious 12th century window that it was carefully removed and stored safely away until happier times.

copyright © D. Sharp
The 12 th century restored window in the east wall has two plain 
round-headed lights, with no encompassing arch on the 
exterior. The lights share a column with a carved capital, 
now worn but originally either a cushion or trefoil. 
The opening has a deep reveal with a continuous
 roll and hollow moulding on the inner face.

The first rumour that the manor might be stabilised, looked after, and opened to the public, came in 1988 when it was one item put forward as an environmental project. Matters progressed slowly because of the legal side. The manor site was the property of the Catholic order of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, and negotiations had to take place.

copyright © D. Sharp
The basement of  the Manor, below the south wall window the original line of the flooring of the Manor's first floor hall can be seen.

At long last work started in 1992 when the site was stripped of invasive vegetation with the sycamores being felled in March 1992. The excavation work cost £40,000 and the bill was shared between English Heritage and Hove Council.

In 1993 Hove Borough Council became responsible for the upkeep of the ruined remains.

Earth up to 1.5 metres deep was removed to bring ground levels down to those of the early 20th century. Repairs using traditional lime methods were used to make the walls safe.

Sifting through the debris a plaster roundel was discovered, which added another point of interest to the manor’s interior decoration. The roundel probably dates back to 1611 and depicts three tulips in a vase with looped handles at either side. Although tulips are commonplace today, they were at one time considered to be exotic blooms from the mysterious East, and became a valued and expensive commodity. In Holland rare bulbs changed hands for exorbitant prices until the market suddenly collapsed. So whoever ordered the tulip roundel was following the height of fashion.

copyright © Hove Borough Council (now Brighton & Hove City Council)
A basement plan of the Norman Manor, At 'A' in the west wing, there is a hole in the stonework, This rare feature is the lower part of a garderobe (lavatory) chute and 'B' is the opening through which the cess was removed.

Interest in the finer things of life extended to interior plumbing. The garderobe was incorporated within a projecting chimney – a most unusual feature. But there is another Sussex example at the Mermaid Inn, Rye. 
The visitors leaflet produced by 
Hove Council in 1996, unfortunately
all funding for the Norman Manor
stopped when Brighton took over Hove,
even though Portslade's Old Manor is
the oldest secular building in the City
and a historic monument

At Portslade the lavatory chute ended at the base of the south wall where there was an opening 180mm wide.

The cess could then be removed from time to time. It is somewhat amusing to note that only the best quality of stone was used for this function – Caen stone no less – more usually employed in churches because it was an imported and expensive.

The ruins were revealed in their full glory for the first time in early 1995, and happily the 12th century window was safely restored to its original place.

On 17 March 1995 the Mayor of Hove (also a Portslade Councillor), Leslie Hamilton, junior, officially opened the ruins of Portslade Manor to the public. It was difficult to hear what was being said because there was a howling gale at the time.

Access to the ruins was through an arched doorway in the twitten. But of course people could not just wander in at any time – arrangements had to be made with the staff at Foredown Tower who held the key to the gate.

In November 1994 there was a big shock when it was learned that the nuns would be leaving Portslade for good and the convent would close down in two years time.

In 1996 it became clear that Sussex Emmaus were negotiating to buy the convent.

This change of ownership, together with the hated amalgamation of Hove and Portslade with Brighton on 1 April 1997 had a direct effect on the manor. Cash flowed into Brighton’s coffers but none came back to be spent on the Norman manor.

In December 2011 the ownership of Foredown Tower was taken over by Portslade Aldridge Community College, and so no council staff were on hand to supervise visits to the ruins. Would the ruins become unvisited and unloved once again?

(See the exciting January 2019 news item in 'The Future of Portslade's Norman Manor House' paragraph at the foot of this page)

Owners of Portslade Manor

copyright © Hove Borough Council (now Brighton & Hove City Council)
The armorial Coats of Arms of the family names associated with the ownership of Portslade’s Manor House throughout its history

William de Warenne

Should anyone be interested in a detailed account of the descent of the manor through the years, the best course is to who consult the Victoria County History; Sussex. Suffice it to say here that the earliest owner was William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, who built Portslade Manor between 1140 and 1150 especially to benefit his illegitimate son Rainald de Warenne. This was not his only act of generosity to Rainald because he also arranged an advantageous marriage to the Norfolk heiress Lady Alice de Wormegay.

It should be noted that ownership of the manor did not necessarily imply occupancy, but it did mean that revenue from the land attached most certainly went into the lord’s or lady’s purse.

 copyright © D. Sharp
The stone dressings from Caen in Normandy and Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight were used to build both St Nicolas and the Norman Manor, The stones would have arrived in Portslade via the medieval port of Shoreham, (the two 2016 erected wind-turbines at the entrance to the harbour can be seen on a clear day from the manor ruins). 

The de Burgh Family

William de Warenne has already been mentioned, and his generosity to his son. But he was also kind enough to sponsor and pay for the education of four intelligent sons whose father was of humble origin in Norfolk with the surname de Burgh. The most brilliant son was the second one Hubert de Burgh (c. 1170-1243). He rose to such heights that at one time he was the most powerful man in England. Naturally, those of noble birth detested this upstart for his ordinary background, and eventually managed to overturn his influence, but not before he had enjoyed a brilliant career and a notable name in history.

Hubert de Burgh entered into the service of King John around the year 1200.
 copyright © D. Sharp
The Keep of Falaise Castle in Normandy where Hubert de Burgh
held Prince Arthur prisoner. (Photograph taken in 2005)
In the period when the English crown, owned swathes of land in France. King John sent Hubert de Burgh to Normandy in 1202 in order to keep hold of Falaise. When King John’s forces captured Prince Arthur of Brittany, he was handed over to the custody of Hugh de Burgh in Falaise. 

Prince Arthur was the nephew of King John, and he should have become king; instead Richard the Lionheart’s brother John seized the throne. King John gave cruel instructions for Prince Arthur to be castrated, and his eyes burnt out, and this story was already current as early as 1228. 

copyright © Manchester Art Gallery
by William Frederick Yeames 1882
Prince Arthur, Duke of Brittany and
Hubert de Burgh
Shakespeare wrote a touching scene in his play King John in which the young prince pleads for his sight with Hubert de Burgh. A famous speech runs as follows:

O heaven, that there were but a mote in yours
A grain, a dust, a gnat, a wandering hair
Any annoyance in that precious sense!
Then, feeling what small things are boisterous there
Your vild intent must needs seem horrible.

Shakespeare makes Hubert relent and leave his charge unharmed. In fact, King John despatched three knights to carry out the deed – but two knights were obviously horrified at the idea, and absconded as soon as they left the king’s presence. The third knight plodded on to Falaise but Hubert persuaded him not to carry out the sentence.

Then King John sent Hubert to defend the large castle at Chinon, which he managed to hang on to for over a year, he and the survivors fighting valiantly as the walls crumbled. Hugh was wounded and spent two years in the hands of the French. Meanwhile, Prince Arthur had disappeared, and it seems obvious that King John ordered his murder

Hubert de Burgh returned to England in 1207. It is probable that William de Warenne, his earliest patron, had something to do with his release from the French. A strong pointer is that afterwards Hubert married William de Warenne’s daughter.

Hubert de Burgh became one of the 38 guarantors when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, after which Hubert was officially declared Chief Justiciar of England (equivalent to a Prime Minister).

Following King John’s death in 1216, Hubert became the most influential figure in the 9 year old Henry III’s government, when he effectively became Regent of England.

In 1217 there was renewed war with France, and he played an important role, he commanded the English fleet in the defeat of the French at the Battle of Sandwich and was hailed "the saviour of the national cause" (Some historians believe Hubert de Burgh's victory over the French at Sandwich should rank alongside the victories over the Spanish Armada in 1588 and Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805).

Public Domain – British Library
Hubert de Burgh kneeling at an altar, 
seeking sanctuary at Merton.
an illustration from
Matthew Paris' Historia Anglorum
In 1223 Hubert purchased land from Westminster Abbey to build a mansion, which he named Whitehall Palace, this building has been greatly enlarged over the years, today 'Whitehall' has become a synonym for government.

In 1227 he was created Earl of Kent. It is fascinating to note that he built up such wealth in lands and money, that he thought it wise to deposit his treasure with the Knights Templar.

The barons were jealous of Hubert’s wealth and power. In 1232 Hubert was falsely accused of treason and fled for sanctuary to Merton Priory. Hubert left Merton, assuming he had safe-conduct from the king. He joined his wife at St. Edmunds, and then to Brentwood, which belonged to his nephew, the Bishop of Norwich. The king believed that he intended to flee the kingdom, and sent armed men to arrest him. Hubert took refuge in the Boisars Chapel. Hubert was forcibly removed from the Church’s sanctuary by Geoffrey de Crawcombe.
Hubert was taken to the Tower of London and spent a further year in Devizes Castle.

In 1234 Hubert was granted a full pardon by the King Henry III. He regained his earldom of Kent and held it until his death in 1243 at Banstead in Surrey.  Hubert was buried in the Church of the Friars Preachers (Blackfriars) in Holborn, London.

In his lifetime Hubert de Burgh was a national hero. Matthew Paris (1200-1259), the monk and historian, relates how, at the time of Hubert’s arrest, a blacksmith refused to put irons on Hubert “who restored England to the English.” In constitutional history Hubert de Burgh is remembered as the last of the great Justiciars of England.

Hubert was married three times:

Beatrice, daughter of William de Warenne, gave birth to John; she died in 1214

1217 – Hubert married Isabelle, Duchess of Gloucester, divorced wife of the late king. In this same year Hubert was given Portslade Manor. (Isabelle died soon after her marriage)

1221 – Hubert married Margaret, sister of Alexander, King of the Scots

By 1226 Hubert de Burgh had given Portslade Manor to his daughter Margaret. She fell in love with her father’s ward Richard, Earl of Gloucester, and married him in secret without her father’s knowledge. But there were no children of the marriage, and the manor passed to her half-brother John.

John de Burgh married Cecilia de Balliol they had a daughter who was named Margaret – she was born in Portslade Manor in 1264. Margaret married Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, in 1280. Their daughter Elizabeth went on to marry Robert the Bruce and became Queen of the Scots.

When John’s son, another John de Burgh, died in 1280 he left daughters Divorguilla, aged 24, and Hawise, aged 22. Portslade inheritances still operated under the old custom known in law as Borough English, which pre-dated the Norman Conquest – the Normans favouring inheritance by primogeniture. However, Borough English decreed that the inheritance should go to the youngest child and thus Hawise came to own Portslade Manor. There was another sister called Margery but she had become a nun.

Hannah Brackenbury and the Balliol Family
copyright © D. Sharp
The Brackenbury Chapel with the ruins of
Portslade's Norman Manor to the left

Miss Hannah Brackenbury (1795-1873) of Adelaide Crescent, was one of the wealthiest residents of Hove. She believed she could trace her ancestors back to Sir Perse de Brackenbury (companion in arms to William the Conqueror) who had married into the family of John de Balliol around 1086 AD.

Hannah was a philanthropist. During her lifetime she donated thousands of pounds to various charities including Balliol College at Oxford University. In 1869 the magnificent mortuary chapel known as the Brackenbury Chapel was erected at the north west corner of St Nicolas Church, which contains the remains of Hannah and three other family members.

Hannah believed she was related to Cecilia de Balliol and through her marriage, to John de Burgh the Lord of the Manor of Portslade, which may account for her wish to have a Chapel built close to Portslade's Norman Manor.

The de la Warr Family

Hawise, died in 1299, her son Thomas was then not of age for inheritance, but in 1305 he granted the manor to his sister Joan and her husband John, Lord de la Warr.

copyright © D. Sharp
In August 2018 new research carried out on the 14th century Gough Map held at the Bodleian Library has revealed a forgotten ancient pilgrimage route -‘The Old Way’, passing 2 miles north of Portslade from which both St Nicolas Church and Portslade’s Norman Manor would have clearly been seen and served as landmarks on the route. 
These two prominent 'landmarks' would have drawn pilgrims into Portslade's village looking for overnight accommodation. The pilgrims route wends its way through Sussex from Southampton to St Thomas’ shrine at Canterbury. 
St Nicolas is one of only four churches in Sussex that has a pre-reformation church bell dedicated to 
St Thomas a’ Becket -  Sancte Thoma Ora Pro Nobis’ (See St Nicolas Church Bells page).

In 1312 the Overlord of Portslade, a John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, was granted a charter by King Edward II to hold a Fair at Portslade annually on 6 December, the Feast Day of Saint Nicolas, (Portslade's ancient church is dedicated to St Nicolas). Also the Lord of Portslade was entitled to all wrecks that are washed ashore between the west hedge of Aldrington and the ditch of Hove.

John de la Warr died in 1347, his heir being his grandson, Sir Roger de la Warr, son of his son John, then aged 18. Sir Roger passed Portslade Manor in 1368 on to his eldest son Sir John and his wife Elizabeth and their son - Sir Roger de la Warr, who was frequently in France in the king's service, died in Gascony in 1370, having been twice married. 

His widow Eleanor married Sir Lewis Clifford, and in 1373 she released her right in a third of the manor of Portslade to Sir John de la Warr son of Sir Roger by his first wife.
On John's death in 1398, his brother the Revd Thomas de la Warr Rector of Manchester and Swineshead, inherited the Manor until his death in 1427. He was succeeded by his nephew Sir Reynold West, son of his half-sister Joan and Sir Thomas West, who held Portslade in 1428. Sir Reynold died owning both Portslade and Aldrington Manors in 1450, leaving a son Richard, aged 19, who in 1459 received a grant of £40 a year for life for his services against the Yorkist rebels and died in March 1476. His son Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, was a supporter of Henry VII, and obtained large grants of land in Sussex. He mortgaged Portslade in 1497 to Ralph Bukberd of London, and died in 1525. 

His son Thomas died without issue in September 1554, when the baronies of La Warr and West fell into abeyance between the daughters of his half-brother Sir Owen West.
Sir William West, nephew and heir male of Thomas, being the son of Sir George West of Warbleton, Sussex, had been adopted by Thomas as his heir before the death of Sir Owen in 1551, but William had tried to poison his uncle and was by Act of Parliament in February 1550 disabled from all honours. In 1556 he was found guilty of complicity in a plot against Queen Mary. However, his status was restored in 1563 and was created in 1570 Lord de la Warr. He died in December 1595, and his son Thomas conveyed Portslade Manor in 1599, to Sir Herbert Pelham as security for certain bonds.

The Snelling Family

In 1600, Thomas, Lord de la Warr, Thomas Pelham, Herbert Pelham, sold the manor to Richard Snelling.

It seems that the Snelling family were already living in Portslade Manor long before it was purchased from de la Warr. Indeed, Richard Snelling was at least the third generation of his family to occupy the premises. Richard’s son, Sir George Snelling, succeeded him as lord of the manor.

In 1609 the Snellings decided to sell the manor.

copyright © Hove Borough Council (now Brighton & Hove City Council) drawing by John Foster.
An artist's impression of Portslade's Manor in the 17 th century. The Norman Manor had been greatly extended with the addition of  east and west wings. When this enlarged house was demolished most of the masonry and flints went into the building of the 'new' 1807 manor grounds perimeter walls and the Victorian folly. 

Various Owners

Portslade Manor was purchased by Abraham Edwards of Lewes and Abraham Edwards of Brightling. When the latter died at Portslade in 1643, the heir was his son Abraham Edwards aged eight years. It is confusing for historians when families persist in using the same Christian name. When young Abraham Edwards was placed in the care of another male relative, his name was of course Abraham Edwards.

By 1700 William Westbrook was Lord of the Manor, and when he died his widow married Thomas Andrews; they remained owners until 1730s. Their grandson sold the manor in 1750.

By 1783 the manor was in the possession of Elizabeth Lamb, who in 1806 sold it to William Borrer.

The Borrer Family and the new Manor House

copyright © J. Middleton
The 'new' 1807 Portslade Manor House, built by the Borrer Family, the Victorian 'castle folly' can be seen on the left.

William Borrer must have been an extraordinary man because he came from humble beginnings but by 1801 was High Sheriff of Sussex and he accumulated a massive fortune. Somers Clarke (1802-1892) remembered old William Borrer, founder of the family. He wrote:

‘He was a quiet respectable-looking old Country Farmer and was very unpretending in his manner. He was formerly a retail Butcher in Ditchling and at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century, he became a large contractor in supplies of meat and forage for the Army with the then Government – in those days there was not the competition there is now.’

In 1803, when there was fear of an imminent French invasion, William Borrer offered to provide one wagon and four horses for the use of the government.

The following is a list of William Borrer’s land purchases:

8 February 1788 – 24 acres in Ditchling from Robert Davis of Brighthelmstone, coal merchant, and his sister Johanna Davis – price £860.

1802 – in Portslade, a messuage called Dumbrell’s, a piece of land called Pryor’s, a small piece of wasteland adjacent to Henry Chatfield’s Mansion House, plus a parcel of land in Aldrington.

1806 – Portslade Manor

William Borrer became Lord of the Manor; this was more than merely a title because he was obliged by law to oversee certain land transactions documented in the Portslade Manor Court Books. It is interesting to note that in a special court baron held in 1830 in his presence, there was an appeal made under the ancient custom of the manor known as Borough English (pre-dating the Norman Conquest), which decrees inheritance descends to the youngest child. The court of 1830 heard that when the widow Charity Truseler died, her youngest daughter laid claim to a messuage, tenement and garden. The daughter was Susanna, wife of Thomas Stanford, cordwainer of Souhwick. She won her case. This property was next to what later became Portslade Brewery, and in 1888 Walter Mews paid £250 for it.
It seems that William Borrer overreached himself financially because he used the manor and lands as security and the debt was not paid off until 1837. That is why when his son John Borrer became owner in 1841, he was obliged to repay the money owing to Richard Fuller and John Hamlin Borrer, who had raised the original loan, and the entire transaction came to £1,700. There is a curious letter still extant from J. H. Borrer to John Borrer, as follows:

My dear Jack,
These lawyers will now cheat my young lady out of her dividend unless you show your gallantry by paying me £1,700 tomorrow on account of your purchase and I undertake to return the money if the purchase is not completed.’

Presumably, John Borrer was able to come up with the money because William Borrer, who died in 1832, left his three sons large fortunes – they were William Borrer of Barrow Hill, John Borrer of Portslade, and Nathaniel Borrer of Hurstpierpoint. Indeed, William Borrer’s estate was said to be in the region of three or four thousand pounds.

John Borrer (1785-1866) was born at Pakyns Manor, Hurstpierpoint, which his father had only purchased two years previously. His maternal grandfather was Nathaniel Lindfield, the last male representative of a very old Sussex family. John Borrer was also the nephew of Revd Carey Borrer, rector of Hurstpierpoint from 1841 to 1898, who had the old church demolished and built a new church of the Holy Trinity designed by Sir Charles Barry. In 1888 Revd Carey Borrer, together with Arthur Hardress Borrer of Chelsea, and William Hall of Penstone, Lancing, became Chief Stewards of the Manor of Portslade.

John Borrer lived at Portslade from 1807 but it is not certain whether it was William Borrer or John Borrer who built the new manor house in 1807. But it was John Borrer who must have been responsible for the demolition of the old manor.

copyright © D. Sharp
The partially destroyed Norman Manor House, an act of Victorian vandalism. The reason for the destruction is not really known but is rumoured to be due to a family dispute.

John Borrer endured a terrible run of bad luck in his personal life – before he died himself, three wives, and six children had predeceased him. This must be some kind of macabre record. But it seems he remained a man of faith and was churchwarden of St Nicolas. When a memorial was sent to Chichester complaining about how cramped the church was, his name was one of the signatures on the document. After the north aisle was built Borrer lost no time in erecting three large wall plaques in memory of his lost family members. (See also St Nicolas Church). Here are some family details:

Kitty Borrer

She was his first wife, and she died on 7 April 1811, probably as the result of childbirth, at the age of 27. Her two children were:

Mary born in 1809, she married John Blaker at St Nicolas on 18 April 1839. John Blaker (1804-1864) and his brother Edgar founded a solicitor’s practice at Lewes. He discovered part of the demolished Priory of St Pancras, Lewes, in 1849-1850. The couple had three sons and two daughters

Kate, born in 1811, died unmarried on 23 February 1890 aged 79 years

Mary Ann Borrer

She was John Borrer’s second wife. She produced five babies in quick succession, and like his first wife died of childbirth at the age of 27 on 13 July 1819. Their children were:

John, died at the age of 29 after being involved in a carriage accident. One leg had to be amputated, and he endured three days of acute suffering before dying. It was a tragedy especially because the accident happened only ten days after his wedding day.

William Arthur, born 19 January 1816, died in 1845. He sailed from Singapore on 23 September 1845 and ‘it was supposed the vessel foundered in a terrific hurricane which raged in the China Seas a few days after he left port’.

Ellen, born 10 February 1817, died 12 April 1834, a ‘kind and affectionate daughter’.

Nathaniel, born 1 June 1818, died 24 August 1818.

Frederick Leopold, born 1 July 1819, died 3 September 1819.

Sarah Ann Borrer

Sarah Ann Hall of Albourne was John Borrer’s third wife. The marriage licence was dated 20 October 1821. Their children were:

Henry Hall Borrer, born 16 August 1822. He lived at Hurstpierpoint for 27 years and then moved to 33 Wilbury Gardens, Hove. In 1887 he was still Lord of Portslade Manor, while in 1895 it was noted that he owned a piece of land near the Stonery. He died in his 87th year on 18 March 1909, and was buried in Hove Cemetery. He was the last of the Portslade Borrers.

Lindfield, born 3 September 1823, died 24 October 1823.

Sarah Ann, born in 1824, died 6 March 1908 aged 84. She lived with her unmarried half-sister Kate.

copyright © D. Sharp
Portslade's Norman Manor House and St Nicolas Church in June 2019

Census Information

In 1841 the Borrer family were recorded living in their new manor house. The occupants were John Borrer, aged 56, his wife Sarah, aged 47, daughters Kate and Sarah, and 18-year old Henry who was a mariner. There were five servants.

By 1851 one of the servants was described as a footman, while other servants were a lady’s maid, a cook and a housekeeper.

By 1861 the Borrers felt grand enough to employ the services of a butler.

Lay-out of the Manor

copyright © J.Middleton
This close-up shows the elegant ironwork at the south-west angle
 of the house, to the left is a Victorian folly built from masonry
 taken from Portslade's Norman Manor House ruins.

The new manor provided spacious accommodation; it had a fashionable bow front, canopied windows on the first floor, and a charming south-facing verandah supported on slender iron columns. As a complete contrast to the old manor, the new one’s facade was stuccoed.

An idea of how the interior of the house was arranged can be gauged from a plan dated 1899 when proposed alterations were drawn up by W. P. Puttick of East Street, Brighton, on behalf of E. F. Stranack.

The dining room had a bay window, and next to it was the morning room, then came the drawing room with a withdrawing room at the side. In the central part there were the butler’s pantry, breakfast room, hall, and servants’ hall. At the back of the house there was a children’s playroom and a billiard room.

Upstairs, on the first floor there were six bedrooms, two dressing rooms, and a bathroom. On the top floor there were six bedrooms, a dressing room, and a bathroom for the servants.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Henry Earp, senior, painted this delightful picture of Portslade in 1840 when John Borrer was Lord of the Manor of Portslade. Note St Nicolas Church to the right and the impressive mansion called Portslade House on the left, near the site occupied by King’s School today.

John Borrer’s Land Holdings
copyright © D. Sharp
Manor Lodge (formerly Portslade Lodge)
was the home of John Borrer's daughters -
Kate from 1871-1890 and Sarah Ann from 1874-1908. 

Altogether, John Borrer owned 764 acres at Portslade, and it seems that already he and other landowners had begun to appropriate common land, that, by rights, belonged to the ordinary folk of the parish. For example, it was said John Borrer and others owned Tenantry Hill and Foredown Hill, which were, strictly speaking, still common land. Indeed, the 1840 Tithe Map itemised 1,650 sheep leazes (sic) on Tenantry Hill, and 32 bullock leazes (sic) on Foredown Hill.

In 1841 Borrer became the owner of Portslade Manor and grounds, and also nearby Manor Lodge. The latter cost £740 and was purchased from Richard Fuller, John Hamlin Borrer, and Catherine Cordy.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
The windmills at Copperas Gap owned by John Borrer, Lord of the Manor of Portslade. 
Painting attributed to Frederick Ford

John Borrer also owned a central piece of Mile Oak, plus the Foredown forge. Further south he owned the Copperas Gap windmills and the Britannia Flour Mills, part of the seashore and cliff, and a section of the railway to Shoreham. Some of the fields in Borrer’s possession have delightful names, hence the following:

Hangleton Bush
New Barn
Distance Rest Piece
Cock Roost Piece
Shepherd’s House Piece
Dimbledee Cow Down
Freeman’s Court

These holdings were all arable land.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
John Borrer owned the foreground (seashore & cliff) in this painting The view is looking west to Shoreham from Portslade in 1879. This painting was by James K Kinnear

Then there was North House Homestead, which became North House Farm, Stonery Gardens, and Benfields’ Side Hill. An intriguing name is Hag Track Cottage on Foredown Hill, thought to refer to a local wise woman, some say witch, who used to live there.

It is interesting to note that North House Homestead and many of the surrounding fields were in the occupation of John Hodson. It is possible that he was a relative of the Borrers because the Borrers were related to the Hodsons of Westmeston Place. There are some Hodson burials in the churchyard of St Nicolas as follows:

Jane Hodson of Portslade, youngest daughter of Anthony and Anna Hodson of Westmeston Place, died in 1816.

John and Jane Hodson both died in 1855 in their seventies

Philadelphia Bostock (nee Hodson) of Westmeston Place died in 1868. (In 1861 she was staying with the Borrers at Portslade Manor).

The Hodson burials are quite near to the Borrer graves.

John Borrer died on 12 August 1866 at the age of 81, and was buried on the 18 August, right next to the doorway leading to Portslade Manor.

After John Borrer died, his surviving children had no desire to live at Portslade Manor, having established themselves elsewhere.
Therefore the manor was let to various individuals, and one of them went by the resounding name of Matthew Theodosius Denis de Vitre, a partner in the Bombay Agency - Remington & Co, he lived in Portslade Manor from the late 1860s until his death on the 26 December 1870. When de Vitre died he left £90,000 in his Will, an equivalent pound value of over 10 million pounds in 2019.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Brighton Herald 3 June 1871

 Charles Barber

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Brighton Herald 2 November 1895
By 1882 Charles Barber was living in Portslade Manor. He was a member of the well-known firm of Barber & Co. tea merchants of London and Brighton. In March 1882 there was a Public Inquiry into the desirability of building a hospital at Foredown. Charles Barber sent a letter of protest, not that it had any effect on the outcome. Charles Barber did not enjoy many years at Portslade because he soon succumbed to a long illness. Despite the best attentions of Dr Carter, and Dr Fuller, Barber died on 25 August 1887 aged 70.

His funeral service was held at St Nicolas Church, after which the funeral cortege consisting of six mourning carriage and two private carriages proceeded to Hove Cemetery. Mrs Barber, Charles Barber and Miss Louie Barber were in the first carriage while ‘a number of the employees of the deceased gentleman followed on foot’. The grave is situated near a pine tree on the south side of the main path leading to the chapels, and the monument is a large rose marble obelisk.

Mrs Barber continued to occupy Portslade Manor where the 1891 census records her living with a niece, two nephews, and two servants. Mrs Barber died at the age of 73 on 19 December 1899, and her nephew, Charles Harry Barber, died on 2 September 1902 – both being buried in the family vault at Hove Cemetery.

The Dovecote
copyright © D. Sharp
The Manor's dovecote

On the north side of the manor grounds, close to the entrance from Drove Road, there is a square-sided flint-built dovecote. In common with village cottages, the dovecote was built with available material, which included the odd red brick placed at random.

On one side there are three rounded apertures with slate landing-places for pigeons. It is interesting to note that the beautifully-restored Hangleton Dovecote is round, rather than square.

It is not known when the Portslade Dovecote was built, but it was certainly mentioned in a deed dated 23 November 1805 when the ‘Pigeon House’ was part of 850 acres rented to William Ellis.

In the old days, only the Lord of the Manor was allowed to have his own dovecote. This was necessary because pigeons are veracious eaters, and hopefully crop damage would have been kept to a minimum.

St Marye’s Convent

 copyright © G.Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection. St Marye's Convent in the 1930s

Miss Kathleen Nelson purchased Portslade Manor and grounds and gave it to the Order of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God; they took up residence on 24 April 1904.

The nuns remained there until the 1990s. Portslade people looked forward to the annual Summer Fete held in the grounds, which had been a feature of local life for over 50 years. It was therefore a somewhat sombre occasion when the last fete was held on 22 June 1996 – the nuns moved out shortly afterwards.

(For a fuller account of the convent, please see St Marye's Convent page)


copyright © D. Sharp
The north wing was added to the 'new' 1807 Portslade Manor House in time of St Marye’s Convent’s ownership of the building, to serve as accommodation for Nuns and other residents of the convent.

In November 1996 it was stated that Sussex Emmaus were negotiating to buy St Marye’s Convent for around £500,000. Churches in Sussex donated over £20,000 to help set the venture on its feet, and later there was a grant from the Government’s Single Regeneration Fund.

It was in 1949 that Abbe Pierre founded Emmaus in France, and the movement spread to 44 different countries. By 1998 Emmaus had had seven communities in England including Cambridge, Coventry, Dover, Greenwich and Manchester; by 2014 the number had risen to 24 communities with nine more in the pipeline. The aim is to provide homeless people with a community where they can live safely, learn new skills, and earn their keep.

There are few rules but if a person is accepted to be part of the project, that person is expected to keep clear of drugs, alcohol, and violence.

copyright © D. Sharp
April 2019 view of the ruins of Portslade's Norman Manor House from the Emmaus' Cafe

See the Emmaus Portslade page for more information.

The Future of Portslade's Norman Manor House

An exciting announcement was made on the 29 January 2019, in the form of Heritage Lottery Funding of £10,000 being awarded to the local charity Fresh Start Portslade based at Easthill Park, to ‘improve access and visibility of Portslade's Norman Manor house, communicate its historic importance, and explore possible solutions for its longer-term sustainability’.

The Argus reported on 21 February 2019, ‘The Lottery Funding will be used to provide support and training for a team of 15 local people to research the history of the Manor, and its importance to Portslade over the last 900 years. The research will be displayed on information boards around the Old Manor site, giving a timeline from the 11th century to the present day. Volunteers will be trained in heritage conservation and grounds maintenance to become guardians of the site, ensuring its upkeep and protection for future generations'.

Digging up the Past

It is exciting to think that at long last, steps have been taken to unearth some of Portslade’s ancient history in the grounds of the manor. You cannot just go in wielding a spade or trowel, and hoping for the best. First of all, there was a special geo-scan that indicated suitable sites at which to dig test pits. The scans came up with five such spots. Even better, the volunteer diggers came up with around 1,900 small finds on the first day. It is tantalising that only three were revealed in the Press release, and accompanying pictures; they were:

A wild boar’s tooth

Oyster shells

Part of a Roman plate

The find of oyster shells is interesting. While today oysters are considered rather special, in times past they may have formed part of an ordinary diet. It reminds one of Sir Walter Scott’s wonderful comment about the old days when ordinary folk on a great estate in Scotland grumbled to their betters about having to eat fresh salmon so often, whereas today salmon is an expensive treat.

The volunteers digging at Portslade are members of the Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society, and the impetus came from Fresh Start Portslade whose project leader is John Shepherd, and he was very grateful for their support. Mr Shepherd is keen to ensure the general public, as well as local children, become more aware of the fascinating history of Portslade. (Argus 9/6/21)


Additional information from Mr. M. Hill
Census Returns
Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Royal Pavilion, Libraries and Museum ‘Review’ (February 2006) article based on a lecture given by John Lochyer with additional notes by Stella Bedoe
Sussex Archaeological Collections
Sussex Notes & Queries
Victoria County History: Sussex

The Keep

HOW 86/4 – John Borrer, Ditchling Gentleman, probate 1795/1816
LLM/E4 – Names of persons willing to serve 1803

Copyright © J. Middleton
Page layout and additional research on the de Burgh family by D. Sharp